U.S. Energy Independence Reaches Record Highs

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  • Defining Energy Independence: Exploring the differences between zero imports and energy surplus.
  • Consistent Energy Surplus: How U.S. energy independence has grown under both Trump and Biden administrations.
  • Global Energy Interdependence: Why zero imports are impractical in today’s globalized energy markets.

The idea of U.S. energy independence remains a hot topic, even making an appearance at the recent presidential debate. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it, even though many people have trouble defining what it means.

Establishing Consistent Terminology

It’s important to understand that the following two statements are each true under a consistent definition of energy independence.

  1. If the U.S. is not energy independent under Joe Biden, then it was never energy independent under Donald Trump.
  2. If the U.S. was energy independent under Donald Trump, then energy independence has grown to record levels under Joe Biden.

Under no scenario did the U.S. become energy independent under Trump and lose it under Biden.

Let’s briefly review the concepts. It’s important to establish definitions to ensure we are talking about the same thing.

Definition 1: Zero Imports

There are two ways to think about energy independence. One definition is that we don’t import any energy. That would be true energy independence. Call this the Zero Imports Definition.

I don’t find this definition very useful, due to the globalized nature of energy markets. The U.S. imports some energy to convert it into products for export. We began importing crude oil in the U.S. before 1950, and we have imported it every year since.

Under this definition, the U.S. hasn’t been energy independent in at least 75 years. This definition highlights how interdependent global energy supplies are, emphasizing that this sort of energy independence is neither necessary nor economically desirable.

Thus, the notion, “President Trump made us energy independent”, is not true under the Zero Imports Definition. During President Trump’s term, the U.S. imported an average of 9.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil and finished products. By the Zero Imports Definition, Statement 1 above holds: We weren’t energy independent under Trump or Biden.

Definition 2: Energy Surplus

The Energy Surplus Definition is more useful in my view. That defines energy independence as producing more energy than we consume. Based on that definition, even if we import some energy, the fact that we produce more than enough to satisfy our needs would mean the U.S. is energy independent.

The Energy Surplus Definition is what Trump is using when he said we became energy independent while he was in office. If we consider this definition, in 2019 the U.S. had an energy surplus for the first time since at least the 1940s. This can be seen in the following graphic when the production line barely exceeds the consumption line for the first time in 2019

A Record Energy Surplus in 2023. ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION

Net U.S. energy imports hit a record high in 2005, but since then have steadily declined due to the surge of oil and gas production released by the shale boom. In 2019, net U.S. energy imports became net exports, and that is the measure by which many — including Donald Trump — declared energy independence.

However, we didn’t lose this status under Joe Biden. To the contrary, U.S. oil and gas production continued to grow, as shown in the next graphic. In 2022 the net energy surplus reached 5.94 quadrillion BTUs (quads), which was the highest level in at least 70 years.

I covered this development a year ago in U.S. Energy Independence Soars To Highest Level In Over 70 Years. But last week the EIA updated the numbers to include 2023. (They also revised 2022 down to 5.83 quads, which was still higher than any excess under Trump).

The net energy surplus in 2023 grew to 7.80 quads — the highest number on record. In 2019, that number had been only 0.61 quads of net energy surplus. Thus, Statement 2 above is correct. If you are using energy surplus as a measure of energy independence, there have now been three consecutive annual surpluses that exceeded those under Donald Trump.

Conclusions

In summary, the debate over U.S. energy independence is often muddled by differing definitions and political rhetoric. True energy independence, characterized by zero energy imports, is neither practical nor reflective of the interconnected nature of global energy markets.

Instead, a more pragmatic definition—producing more energy than consumed domestically—offers a clearer perspective. Under this measure, the U.S. has not only achieved but also expanded its energy independence since 2019, with growing surpluses under both the Trump and Biden administrations.

The consistent growth in net energy production, particularly driven by advancements in oil and gas extraction technologies, underscores the nation’s robust energy sector. As we move forward, it’s crucial to continue fostering policies that support a secure and resilient energy future for the United States.

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Robert Rapier
Robert Rapier is a chemical engineer in the energy industry and Editor-in-Chief of Shale Magazine. Robert has 25 years of international engineering experience in the chemicals, oil and gas, and renewable energy industries and holds several patents related to his work. He has worked in the areas of oil refining, oil production, synthetic fuels, biomass to energy, and alcohol production. He is author of multiple newsletters for Investing Daily and of the book Power Plays. Robert has appeared on 60 Minutes, The History Channel, CNBC, Business News Network, CBC, and PBS. His energy-themed articles have appeared in numerous media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and The Economist.

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